The Five Words That Radically Changed My Time Management

Five words. That’s all it took was five words to completely change the way I looked at my productivity.

For literal years I’ve struggled. I’ve been running my own business since 2003 and during all that time, it’s been a constant tension to manage: the limits of my time versus the people who all wanted a piece of it.

Owe your time or own your time?

There are those that you owe your time to – God, the wife, kids, family, friends, and yes, clients. Then there are those who, if you let them, will own your time. These can be people who want to pick your brain “just really quick,” or interrupt with an email or a text or a phone call and and before you know it, you’ve taken the time you owed to one person and given it to this other one. Or more accurately – they stole it. And you let them.

Here’s the kicker – a lot of times, the lines between who you owe your time to and who owns your time will get blurred and even crossed…because they’re often the same people! Your spouse, kids, family, friends and clients can easily wrestle your time away from you without even realizing they’re doing it. They’re not doing anything wrong – just needing a question answered, or an update on a project, or a chance to hang out over the weekend. But because I was constantly just reacting to these requests as they came (instead of practicing this five-word-trick), I was chasing my tail and making people mad and at the end of the day I was exhausted, and had never made it to my actual to-do list.

The five words that changed it all

I recently picked up the book Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern (buy it on Amazon) and was hit smack in the face with the realization that I was not getting things done well because I was not handling them right in the first place. In her chapter on declaring the Technical Errors with time management, Julie nailed it for me when she wrote “Too often, people make lists of what they want to do, without asking the next essential question: When am I going to do this? Unless a task has a ‘home’, that is, a time slot clearly blocked out on your schedule, you won’t get to it.”

Bam. There it was – the essential key that was missing from my process. In five words, that key was “What gets scheduled gets done.”

I realized that I had always confused what my ‘home’ was for my tasks. I always thought the ‘home’ was the place it collected to – the pen and paper or the software. It’s why I spent so many hours of my life searching for a new tool, thinking it would fix the problem. It didn’t, and now I know why – ‘home’ isn’t the tool, ‘home’ is the time!

Our life and our “spare time”

I remember being taught from an early age about how to keep a clean room: “Make sure everything has a home, and everything is in it’s home.” To this day it is my motto to deterring clutter and keeping a tidy home. It’s the same with our life. Our life is simply the time we have, and the ways we spend that time. And it’s almost universally fair – we all get 168 hours in the week. If we don’t designate it to a certain category or ‘home,’ it’ll surely get eaten up by the first text, email or client that shows up hungry.

Too often I used to jot down a task to complete later, thinking “I’ll get to that in my spare time.” But the truth is, – as Julie Morgenstern put it – “we have no spare time. As it is, our days are packed with more things to do than we have time to do them.”

So then, it’s not about finding time to do things, but about making time to get them done. Prioritize, assign a home, and be diligent about it. Respect each of those in your life that you owe your time enough to give them adequate time, and not allow someone or something else to encroach upon that.